Monday June 26, 2006

Fayetteville Observer: Marshland on road to recovery

By Michael Futch Staff writer

Kristy Rodrigue balanced on a rusty sewer line jutting out over the former
lake bed. She carried half-a-dozen saplings in a pair of saddlebags on her
back.

“To the swamp, to the rice paddies I go,” she cried out as she jumped down,
her rubber boots firmly planted in the spongy marshland.

Rodrigue, a 29-year-old environmental scientist with Mid-Atlantic
Mitigation, was overseeing the planting of trees among the wetland grasses
that have sprouted, waist-high in some places, over what was once Country
Club Lake.

The Concord firm was awarded a contract last year by the North Carolina
Ecosystem Enhancement Program to develop a wetland and stream restoration
project on the property. The land is owned by Greg and Patricia Tarlton,
former Fayetteville residents who now live in Wilmington.

The state program is a partnership between the Transportation Department,
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Army Corps of
Engineers that decides which private or public entities get state money for
environmental impact mitigation projects. Its purpose is to restore, enhance
and protect streams, wetlands and their natural functions.

The Tarltons’ 19-acre site is on the corner of Clearwater and Country Club
drives, not far from Ramsey Street, on the northern side of Fayetteville.

A short, winding dirt and partially graveled road leads to the former lake,
which is mostly hidden by a forested buffer.

Few people know the area is there.

“We have the geese. We wait for them to come up. We have blue herons back
here. We’re just nature lovers,’’ said Pamela Johnson, one of the
neighborhood landowners. “You wouldn’t know you have all this back here. Not
with that busy street.”

The contract calls for Mid-Atlantic to restore 3,800 linear feet of stream
and eight acres of associated wetlands at the Tarlton Stream and Restoration
site. After the contract was awarded, the land was placed in a conservation
easement held by the state.

“The landowner, all he can do is walk through it,” Rodrigue said. “He cannot
build on it. Eventually, it could maybe be used for recreational usage, like
fishing.”

The project, which is nearly completed, is expected to cost $500,000.

It may be the first of its kind inside the city limits. “If you ask me, I’d
say it probably is,” said Rich Mogensen, director of Mid-Atlantic
Mitigation.

Mogensen said the company’s mission is to improve water quality, provide
storm-water management, increase and improve the wildlife and fish habitat
in the restored stream, and to preserve valuable natural open space for
future generations.

Most of those goals are posted on a sign at the site. A private property
notice at the entrance warns against hunting, fishing, trapping or
trespassing.

Greg Tarlton, who lived in Fayetteville for 20 years before moving to the
coast a couple of years ago, has owned the property for a decade. The
previous landowner filed for bankruptcy after several dam failures, and
ownership of the land was transferred to the Tarltons.

That was the result of a business deal gone sour, Tarlton said.

“It sat there for a long time,” he said. “We just feel lucky to be in a
position to do something environmentally friendly that will last forever.
Kind of serendipity, if you will. Hopefully, they’ll turn it into an
enchanted forest one day.”

The project’s start
Mid-Atlantic Mitigation worked with the Tarltons to propose the restoration
project to the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program. Last year, the company
built the Hillcrest Bay Wetland Restoration Project adjacent to Scurlock
Elementary School in Raeford. That land has since been transferred to Hoke
County, Mogensen said.

At the Tarlton site, the stream restoration endeavor has entered the second
phase of planting on the former lake bed, which is shaped like a horseshoe.
Carolina Silvics of Edenton, which specializes in natural resource plantings
and forestry services, was contracted to do the landscaping.

On a recent Thursday, Dwight McKinney, one of the owners of Carolina
Silvics, Rodrigue and three workers hauled and planted trees under a
menacing summer sun. They planted green ash, bald cypress, river birch,
swamp tupelo and the once-plentiful Atlantic white cedar.

“Part of the project,” Mogensen explained, “is to get Atlantic white cedar
growing again.”

By the end of the day, the crew planted 500 to 1,000 trees.

“All those trees poking up,” a perspiring McKinney said as he eyed the lake
bed, “we planted them. There was nothing out there.”

His outfit previously seeded eight acres of the property with natural
grasses and plants.

“It was a lake, and the beavers took over,” said Tommy Cousins, another
environmental scientist with Mid-Atlantic. He has been on the project since
the start of construction in October.

“Once it’s drained, we expect natural streams to form like it was before the
man-made dam was constructed,” he said, standing in the shade of what used
to be the old spillway from the dam.

Landowner views
Johnson, the local landowner, said, “Of course, I would prefer we have a
beautiful lake back there. We enjoyed the nature we have back there. But we’
re OK with it.”

Two streams, or tributaries to Cross Creek, were originally dammed by the
developer of Country Club Estates to create County Club Lake for the
surrounding properties. Funds to repair the dam were not available, and the
area was left alone.

Once beavers moved in and took over the dam area, water was impounded in the
former lake. That created a flood hazard to homes and development below the
former lake, according to information provided by Mid-Atlantic Mitigation.

The beaver dam has since been removed. The beavers were trapped and released
humanely, said environmental analyst Jason Claudio-Diaz.

“There was a lot of storm-water runoff in there dumping from the city
culverts,” Tarlton said. “We linked up with the ... (Mid-Atlantic
Mitigation) guys. We kind of formed a pact and put together a project that
would be good for the environment. This thing has a perpetual lifetime
easement to it. It will always be a conservatory.”

The conservation area will be monitored for at least five years, according
to the plan. During that time, biologists will make sure the restoration is
moving along successfully and that beavers remain out of the restored area.

“It’s challenging,” Rodrigue said as she toted the young trees to the side
of the murky marshland. “Every project is different, and you’re working with
different landowners. With development, you can’t stop the development, but
it’s a way of balancing it. In this field, you get to balance out within the
city where there is preservation space.”

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at futchm@fayettevillenc.com or
486-3529.